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Think Before You Speak

By Mary Pettigrew

Unsolicited advice is information, suggestions, and guidance that was not asked for. Yes, I have been guilty of giving such advice to others without thinking about how it might affect the person on the receiving end. I’m sure many of you have also done the same thing. I’ve been trying my best to be more cognizant of this behavior and hope to spread awareness to others and to bring about change with a better understanding as to how we share and interact with one another.

So, why do we feel so inclined to give unsolicited advice to others?
  • We care and want to be helpful.
  • We want to help guide others based on our experiences.
  • We feel like we can relate, so we get excited to share. 
  • We think what worked for me, will work for another.
  • We worry, so we want to soothe our own anxiety. 

How can we tell when we’ve crossed the line, overstepping boundaries from helping to harming? Sometimes people will be straightforward and will let you know if your input is out of line. Others will simply walk away and avoid responding altogether. Even though our intentions may be good and come from a loving place, unwanted advice is not always taken well. Whether it be towards our friends, family, or others in our multiple sclerosis and chronic illness communities we must think twice before giving advice. 

Unless someone specifically asks for advice, help, or other input, it’s important to listen first, then take a pause before jumping into presumptive or authoritarian mode. If you truly feel like you might have something helpful to share, ask permission before offering up advice or suggestions. 

There are situations where unsolicited advice can be good. Sometimes people may respond well to such advice and will want to hear more. It’s important to know your audience when inserting unsolicited advice. Even then, it’s still important to think before you speak.

Take a pause and ask yourself:
  • Why do I feel the need to offer advice to this person?
  • How can I offer support without giving advice?
  • Should I just listen and be understanding?
  • Can I avoid the urge to step in and just let them help themselves?
  • Can I accept the fact that I don’t have all the answers?

Remember, unwanted advice can be hurtful, disrespectful, annoying, intrusive, and judgmental. It can also send a negative message of superiority and bullying, which can come across as belittling, judgmental. This behavior can also make others feel you’re assuming they’re unable to figure out what’s best for them because you know better. Again, I can attest to my being guilty of doling out unwanted advice. I am remorseful, yet I also feel I’ve learned from my mistakes and will continue to find better ways to handle unsolicited advice (both given and received).

I feel one of the worst arenas where unsolicited advice runs rampant is on social media. I see post after post filled with comments offering unsolicited advice and judgement – not to mention the influx of misleading misinformation as well. This is irritating to say the least. It is also irresponsible and disrespectful. Something’s gotta give.

Here are some sample scenarios:

“Linda” has just received a diagnosis of MS and she is scared and nervous. She has joined an online group for other people with MS and tells the group she is about to start taking a medication recommended by her doctor. Comments start pouring in, people start bombarding her with advice, fear mongering, alternate therapies, diets, etc. Linda now feels confused, overwhelmed, judged, and frustrated.

“Mark” is engaging with others on a social media platform where everyone is sharing stories, experiences, symptoms, and other details about MS. “Tammy” has come into the chat feed and “hijacks” nearly all comments with her own theories, declaring how MS is really Lyme disease instead. This behavior is not only off topic, they’re obnoxious, irresponsible, and uncalled for. “Tammy’s” posts have been reported but never get taken down.

First and foremost, pay attention to what people are saying and how they are saying it. Ask questions if necessary to clarify intent. Maybe they’re wanting to blow off steam, or maybe they want someone to listen and comfort. Unless someone specifically asks for advice, be respectful of their personal space and boundaries. Remember, most people have good intentions, so although it’s important to be direct, it’s also important to be polite and kind.